Nigella Lawson’s Chocolate Fudge Cake + A Love For Cookbooks

It’s been slim pickings here at the blog for a while now so I thought I might as well post something rich and decadent after a-ummm-how shall I put it across? A blog-fast? A locked pantry?

We celebrated my husband’s birthday this month, and every year, he asks for a chocolate cake. He likes cheesecake and loaf cakes and citrusy oil-based cakes as well, but when it comes down to the kind of cake he’d like to cut on his birthday, it must be chocolate. Clean. Classic. Simple. Elegant.

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And if there’s one cook out there who has chocolate cake recipes to suit every kind of palate and occasion, it’s Ms Lawson. Need a fancy cake? Torta alla gianduia from How To Be A Domestic Goddess. Need a cake that’s less dense, but looks difficult and laboured over? Chocolate cloud cake from Nigella Bites. Need something sophisticated and served individually? Molten chocolate babycakes. Gluten-free? Nigellissima’s Chocolate olive oil cake! So you see, she has something for the children, something for the chocoholic, something for the gluten-intolerant.

I picked up a copy of Nigella Bites a month ago, it was a nice hardcover edition, plus it was on sale. I know the number of recipes is limited compared to say, a How To Eat, Feast, or Nigellissima, and I’m well aware that almost all her recipes are available online (either on her website or a food blogger’s,) but the offer was too good to resist. I’d flipped through a copy of Nigella Bites it in a bookshop and quite liked it. (Yes, I’m one of those people- I’ll browse in a bookshop and buy it on Amazon or Flipkart if it’s cheaper there.) I have HTBADG, but I like Nigella Bites because it’s slightly different from the others- fewer recipes, but more step-by-step pictures, and a page after each chapter for notes, so you can scribble your observations and notes to self.

Okay, I’ll say it now- I am a Nigella convert. I’ve been quite open about my contempt for her in the past, but as I browse through more of her books, I began to see why she’s so popular: the pretty prose aside, she does tend cook to like many of us would at home. (I use stock cubes and frozen peas myself.) While I may not be making her ham in Coca Cola anytime soon, there are plenty of other things I can attempt, from involtini to orange breakfast muffins and Vietnamese chicken salad. And even if I don’t end up making all of the recipes, I don’t mind- like having cookbooks to hold and read!

Actually I love collecting cookbooks. I read them like I would a novel, going through recipes and techniques before bed each night, drawing some kitchen inspiration and figuring out how I can use the ingredients I have in a new way.

So most nights, before I sleep, I’ll flip through a cookbook in bed. I’ll just pick a book off my bookshelf, based on how I feel- and I’ll read a recipe or two like a bedtime story. Marcella Hazan’s tips on how best to store basil. Felicity Cloake’s recipe for perfect gazpacho. Amanda Hesser’s baked zucchini with herbs. Ritu Dalmia’s marinated eggplant sandwich recipe, or one of Nigella’s many, many muffin or cake recipes. More than the recipe itself- “…in a bowl sift together flour, salt, baking powder..,” I like reading the notes preceding a recipe. What inspired it, who it’s borrowed from, a special meal it was part of, how the author has added her twist to it.

I’ve come across other bloggers who do the same- and I wonder- do you curl up with a good cookbook? And why? For the prose, meal planning, or just to take in the beautiful photography?

Sometimes I wonder if I think about food a little too much: right now, I’m thinking about how to prepare a bowl of wheatberries, currently soaking. And this brings me back to Ms Lawson. She claims to have her mind on food almost all the time, and she’s unapologetic about it. And her recipes too, are straightforward and unapologetic about how they came to be.

This chocolate cake is chocolate cake at its simple, uncomplicated best. No 70% dark chocolate to be melted, just good old-fashioned cocoa powder, flour-butter-sugar-eggs. The way the ingredients are combined differs from some of Nigella’s other chocolate cakes, but it yields a spongy and light cake with a creamy, sweet and slightly tart frosting. It’s got more body than buttercream, so it holds up well, and it’s a nice contrast to the spongy cake.

I also feel it tastes better the day after it’s baked- the rest moistens the sponge and makes it a little richer :D

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NIGELLA LAWSON’S CHOCOLATE FUDGE CAKE (From Nigella Bites)

I halved the recipe to make just one layer. I also substituted some ingredients, which I’ve added in brackets.

The Cake

  • 400 g all-purpose flour
  • 250 g golden castor sugar ( I used white castor sugar)
  • 100 light brown muscovado sugar (I used light brown sugar)
  • 50 cocoa powder
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • ½ tsp salt
  • 3 large eggs
  • 142 ml sour cream ( I used plain yogurt)
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
  • 175 grams unsalted butter, melted and cooled
  • 125 ml corn oil (I used sunflower oil)
  • 300 ml chilled water

For The Chocolate Frosting

  • 175 grams dark chocolate (minimum 70% cocoa solids)
  • 250 grams unsalted butter (softened)
  • 275 grams icing sugar (sifted)
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla extract

 

METHOD

For The Cake

  • Preheat the oven to 180°C
  • Grease and line the bottom of two 8-inch sandwich tins.
  • In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, sugars, cocoa powder, baking powder, baking soda and salt.
  • In another smaller bowl or measuring jug, whisk the eggs, sour cream and vanilla until blended.
  • In a third, large bowl, beat the melted butter and corn oil until just blended, then beat in the water. Add the flour mixture at once and beat well. Add the egg mixture-sour cream mixture and continue beating till everything is well combined.
  • Pour the batter into the prepared tins.
  • Bake the cakes for 50-55 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted comes out clean. Cool completely before icing the cake

The Icing

  • Melt the chocolate in the microwave  or a double boiler. Allow it to cool slightly.
  • In another bowl beat the butter until it’s soft and creamy. Add the sieved icing sugar and beat till light and fluffy. Then add the vanilla and melted chocolate and mix until everything is glossy and smooth.
  • To assemble, sandwich the middle of the cake with 1/4 of the icing, and spread the frosting over the top and sides.

Buckwheat Muffins |Buckwheat Muffins With Muesli

I had been toying with the idea of a healthy breakfast loaf, muffin or pancake for a while now. Something that tastes good, keeps well and doesn’t feel like “cake for breakfast.” Something away from processed carbs and added sugar. Something that’s not a sugar-infused, jam-centred, frosting-topped indulgence. Yes, I love frosting and sweet treats, but when you like them as much as I do, you need to strike a balance and find ways to satisfy the craving without sabotaging the waistline. Enter buckwheat flour and the realm of gluten-free baking.

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I’ve tried vegan bakes before, but gluten-free seemed daunting. I was uneasy- I wondered whether the dough would be temperamental, whether xanthan gum was a must-have, whether I’d be left with a gloopy mess. I’ve baked with almond meal, but always mixed it with regular all-purpose flour. I found buckwheat flour in Dorabjee’s in Pune, and started experimenting. This is one of them.

image courtesy | wisegeek

image courtesy | wisegeek

Most recipes, blogs and articles I’d come across described buckwheat flour as having a “nutty” taste. But the first recipe I tried (for buckwheat pancakes,) didn’t really hint at nutty. Maybe it’s because I was expecting too much. For someone who adds almond meal to practically every cake, nuttiness is de riguer.

The buckwheat and banana pancake recipe  was from  It’s All Good, and to be honest I didn’t find it that good. The recipe calls for baking soda, and I was left with not a nutty but just a baking soda aftertaste. I figured it could have been because I used regular milk instead of almond milk. (The recipe in the book is vegan, and I am not.)

The second time around, I reworked the recipe to include eggs and milk, and left out the baking soda. Omitting the soda was a good move. I liked it much better the second time around. I don’t know if I’d describe the taste as nutty, but there is hint of something- kind of nutty, kind of like cinnamon- and it’s a nice taste.

Anyway. This recipe was created out of a need to bake something healthy and convenient for a family member who loves baked goodies, but needs to stay away from gluten and sugar for a while. I took a basic muffin recipe from Michael Ruhlman’s Ratio and replaced regular all-purposed flour with buckwheat flour and folded in some store-bought muesli.

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These muffins last, so re-heating them for breakfast is convenient. These muffins also travel well, so taking them to work is an option, too. Plus, the muesli folded in makes it a decent breakfast. I’ll admit they are not the sweetest things in the world, but they serve as a great vehicle for preserves, jelly, honey, agave and/or butter. The only indulgence is chocolate chips- but because it’s gluten-free and low in sugar, you can feel pretty good about yourself afterwards.

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BUCKWHEAT & MUESLI MUFFINS | GLUTEN-FREE BUCKWHEAT MUFFIN RECIPE (Adapted from Ratio.)

INGREDIENTS

  • 100 g buckwheat flour
  • 3 tablespoons powdered/icing sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  •  50 g butter, melted
  • 100 ml milk
  • 1 large egg
  • 1/2 cup store-bought muesli of your choice
  • A handful of chocolate chips (optional.)

METHOD

  • Preheat oven to 175 C. Grease a muffin tray and set aside.
  • In a large bowl, sift together the buckwheat flour, powdered sugar and baking powder.
  • In another bowl, whisk together the milk, eggs and butter till well incorporated.
  • Fold in the dry ingredients and gently whisk to combine.
  • Fold in the muesli.
  • Fold in the chocolate chips.
  • Scoop the batter into muffin moulds and bake at 175 C for 30 minutes or until a toothpick inserted comes out clean.

 

 

 

Diva Green’s Pumpkin & Coconut Soup

I am having a little affair with vegetarian food. Over the last 6 months, I’ve been losing interest in meat and poultry. Seafood I’m still pretty excited by, but for some reason, when there is meat or chicken on the table, I have scant portions or none at all. I’m much happier when a meal is vegetarian. In the kitchen, I’ve been deviating from the standard dal-roti-sabzi and rice+sambar+thoran routine and making stuff that is out of my comfort zone, keeping vegetables at the center of the plate. And I must credit this flurry of vegetarian cooking to Ritu Dalmia’s cookbook, Diva Green.

I know, I know what you are going to tell me- Ottolenghi’s books are a must-have for anyone who is interested in vegetarian cooking. And I’m going to get one soon, I promise. (Ummm…which one first? Ottolenghi, Jerusalem or Plenty?)

image courtesy | thecityguide.in

image courtesy | thecityguide.in

Anyhow, I came across Diva Green while I was rabbit-holing through cookbooks on Amazon. I enjoy Ritu Dalmia’s TV shows and her cooking style, but I was not sure whether to pick it up. Plus, Amazon didn’t have a preview for the book, so I couldn’t even browse inside. I added the book to my wishlist and let it be. Then I found a copy at Landmark bookstore, and I sat down with it. The book opened onto a recipe for Burmese Tomato Salad as I placed it in my lap- and I was hooked. I just fell in love with the diversity- Italian and Vietnamese; dishes from Kerala and Karnataka;  desserts ranging from baked cheesecake to Bavarian knodel.

I’ve cooked many recipes from this book, and each one of them has been a success. I tweaked a little here and there, substituting some ingredients, but overall, this is  a neat cookbook with a wide range of recipes. Familiar dishes like kadi and desi potato fry get a refined flavour-boost thanks to her techniques, and you may discover some dishes you hadn’t heard of before, like Burmese Tomato Salad and Plecing Kankung (spinach with sambal.)

The one I’m sharing today is a Vietnamese soup, made with pumpkin and coconut milk. It’s rich and creamy without being heavy, and pretty healthy too! I’ve tried my hand at pumpkin soup before, and it came out slightly bland and a little too rich, thanks to cream taking the place of coconut milk. In this soup, the seasoning is uncomplicated- just salt and pepper- but the boiled peanuts add a distinct Southeast Asian flavour, and  make it more fun to eat, too. (Plus: protein!)

Ritu Dalmia's pumpkin and coconut soup

Ritu Dalmia’s pumpkin and coconut soup

This is a simple soup recipe that is low on effort and ingredients required, but high on flavour.

PUMPKIN & COCONUT SOUP (From Diva Green)

INGREDIENTS

  • 1 kilogram pumpkin, de-seeded, peeled and cubed
  • 1/2 cup shelled peanuts
  • 25 ml olive oil
  • 2 medium onions, chopped
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 large bay leaf
  • 250 ml coconut milk
  • Salt and pepper to season

METHOD

  • Parboil the pumpkin in salted water till tender. Drain and set aside. Keep the water to be used later in the soup.
  • In another pot, boil the peanuts in salted water till tender. Drain and set aside.
  • In a large pan, heat the olive oil. Add the bay leaf, onions and garlic and sautee for a few minutes.
  • Add the partially cooked pumpkin pieces and cook for a few minutes. Then add half the boiled peanuts.
  • Next, take the bayleaf out of the pan and discard.
  • Puree the pumpkin+onion+garlic+peanut mixture in a blender or food processor until smooth and creamy.
  • Pour this mixture into a large pot, add the coconut milk, salt and pepper and cook over medium heat. Add as much of the pumpkin water as needed to give it a soupy consistency.
  • Add the remaining boiled peanuts.
  • Garnish with cilantro leaves and serve!